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W.Va. women still face obstacles in work force

Women make 82 cents for every dollar earned by a male

They also tend to have lower paying jobs, make meals, clean and keep the house afloat, according to the WV Women Moving Forward Virtual Summit that attracted more than 400 viewers from across the state.

Tom Barkin, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond – whose territory includes West Virginia – said demographics are not on the side of women.

“From 1997 to 2015, participation by women in the labor force dropped to 3%,” Barkin said. “It has gone up since then, but many of the jobs at the time were low paying and not worth the hassle.”

The ongoing pandemic has not really helped matters either, Barkin said. More women tend to have jobs where they are in physical contact with other people, such as child or elder care.

“In my view, child care and elder care are essential industries,” said Barkin, adding West Virginia has the lowest rate of women in the labor force in the country.

Barkin said he is intrigued by the idea of expanding earned income tax credits to pay for child care, which keeps going up. Wages of women employed in that industry, however, remain low.

States, such as West Virginia, need more broadband coverage to help working women manage the household.

“I can’t accept that kids are going to McDonald’s to do their homework,” he said.

Gloria Blackwell, senior vice president of fellowships and programs for the American Association of University Women in Washington, D.C., who followed Barkin, said it took a pandemic for people to realize women are essential to the workforce.

“We need strong state and federal laws to ensure pay equity,” Blackwell said.

This is especially true with women of color, she said. Over a 40-year working career, a Black woman will earn $800,000 less than a White male. White females, by comparison will earn $400,000 less, said Blackwell adding her organization offers salary negotiation workshops for women online.

“We’ve trained 175,000 during the last five years,” she said.

“”It’s about fixing the system,” Blackwell said.

Other speakers included Francesca Donner, gender director and editor of In Her Own Words for The New York Times; Hadeel Anabtawi, founder of The Alchemist Lab in Jordan; Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry; Emily Calandrelli, Emmy-nominated host and author, Xploration Station and Emily’s Wonder Lab, and Steve Roberts, president and CEO, West Virginia Chamber.

West Virginia Forward began as a collaboration between West Virginia University, the West Virginia Department of Commerce and Marshall University. Over time, this partnership has developed into a statewide effort to identify the state’s assets and pair them with economic trends that will leverage growth and development opportunities to strengthen and diversify all regions of the state.

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